In September – 2006, Nicole Brodeur did an excellent article for the Seattle Times. The story was about Sherri Peak and how her estranged husband stalked her. Ms Peak’s privacy was violated with a hidden cell phone and a GPS tracking system. It is a frightening use of technology.
The part of the Brodeur article that jumped out at me and has stayed with me is the admonition from the police officer:
“In 1990, California became the first of 50 states to establish anti-stalking laws, following the stalking and murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. But even the folks at the Los Angeles Police Department had never heard of a case like Peak’s.“Never,” said Officer Martha Garcia, speaking for the department’s Threat Management Unit. She then warned me against writing details of what Robert Peak had done.
“It might give people ideas,” she said.”
This may seem like a simple caution but it is the basis of a huge ethical responsibility for reporters. Simply, it is the decision when to put news into print and when to silence a story. Those who have been through journalism school will tell you that this is an ongoing dilemma. The query does not lend itself to an easy answers.
Nicole Brodeur’s decision to go to press with the story seems to be the correct choice. The technology for this type of privacy / security abuse is readily available. It is not that the publication of the story would “give people ideas”. People already have the ideas. In this case, ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance could be deadly.